Your letters were sweet and some were funny, said Navy Lieutenant Commander Luke Johnson, a pilot, to the fifth graders in a GT class at Frank Mitchell Intermediate School who wrote him, last year, during an overseas deployment.
“The letters made us smile. Some made us laugh, that is a good thing,” Johnson said. “It is important to get letters.”
LTDR Johnson is a member of the Strike Fighter Squadron 143 (VFA-143), also known as the "Pukin Dogs," aU.S. Navy strike fighter squadron. The Pukin Dogs are an operational fleet squadron and fly the F/A-18E Super Hornet.
LTDR Johnson and his wife, Amanda, stopped by the classroom, Tuesday, at the invitation of teacher Chere’ Beavers. They were passing through Vilonia on their way to spend the holidays with family in Arkansas. The students, in her classroom, have a yearly tradition of writing military members on deployment.
Mrs. Beavers was teacher at Marshall when Amanda was a third grader in the Gifted and Talented program. Also, Amanda served in the Air Force and is currently a civilian physical therapist working at the military base. She said she works on the hurt necks of a lot of pilots. Currently, the Johnsons are stationed at Maxwell AFB in Motgomery, Alabama, while he attends graduate school.
Introductions out of the way, LTDR Johnson spent about 30 minutes talking about his career as well as showing them a video of the ship he was on and some of his peers. The video, he said, was shot at about this time of the year, last year. There were several shots of “boat life,” as well as shots of him piloting a plane in for a ship landing. He also brought along a helmet and other gear for them to look at.
“I have a good job,” he told students. A lot of people may not know the Navy has airplanes. We fly off carriers.”
Sometimes, he said, it can be a bit tense. Your knees can shake a little, he said. For instance, he said, during a night landing. Navy pilots, he said, land on ship runways that measure about three football fields long compared to regular planes landing on a space that measures about 30 football fields long. The speed may be 160 miles per hour with two seconds to stop.
Fielding questions from the students, he touched on the subjects of flares, decoy missiles, afterburner, airborne gas stations and tailhooks. As well, students wanted to know the planes fuel capacity and the accuracy of bombs. They wanted to know about the Naval traditions and G-suits. Also, students were interested in what it takes to be a pilot.
One girl asked, “To be a pilot, do you have to have a math degree? No, LTDR said. At that, she said, it might be a field that she is considering.